The first time I tried snorkelling, I was terrible.
I was 24 and on holiday in Malta. I adjusted the new mask I’d bought, put my face in the water, and gingerly drew air through the snorkel. I gulped and gasped; it felt so unnatural. I’d chosen a sheltered rocky shore that I thought looked inviting; but the spiny sea urchins littering the sea bed made me immediately get out.
Thankfully, I persisted.
Age 31, snorkelling is now my favourite hobby. It’s given me some of the best experiences of my life: watching a pod of wild dolphins play metres from my hands in Australia; floating motionless in a bloom of harmless moon jellyfish; swimming with seals in the shadow of the Skye Cuillins, watching a conger eel hunt for prey. I’ve also qualified as a freediver to improve my breath holds and safety knowledge, meaning I can dive deeper for longer.
So, where’s my absolute favourite place to snorkel? Scotland.
Viewed from the coast, Scottish waters look cold and uninviting. But for the few who dare to dip their head beneath the surface, an unexpected world of life, colour, sound and drama await them. The Scottish Wildlife Trust agree: they created three snorkel trails to encourage more people to take the plunge. The newest one showcases sites on the Berwickshire coastline, most of which are suitable for beginners.
So, how do you snorkel safely?
- Assess your fitness: are you a strong swimmer who knows what to expect from a cold sea? Chat to your doctor if you’re unsure.
- Swat up on safety at sea: the RNLI website has lots of excellent info on how to stay safe and what to do if you get into difficulty.
- Check conditions: tide times, the weather forecast and information about hazards and water movements at the site you plan to visit (for example, rip tides).
- Assemble your kit: a mask, snorkel, wetsuit and fins. All these can be bought second hand in Edinburgh relatively easily. Test them out before you go to ensure they fit properly.
- Choose a buddy: always snorkel with someone, and ideally also have someone watching from the beach who can call for help if needed.
At the beach
- Check conditions: is the weather, tide, and water conditions as you expected? What landmark will you use to ensure you don’t stray too far from the shore?
- Buddy up: chat to your snorkel (and land) buddy about what you plan to do, how long you think you’ll both be in the water for, and what to do if one of you gets into trouble.
- Check your kit: pop your head under the water. Does your mask fit snugly and can you breathe through your snorkel?
In the water
- Look, but don’t touch. Leave seaweed and animals where you find them.
- Take care not to kick sealife with fins or stand on delicate animals.
- Enjoy the sights, sounds, and movements. The sea is such a special place that so few people really experience.
- Warm up! Dress quickly and jog along the beach to raise your core temperature.
- Rest, rehydrate and eat. You’ll need plenty of water and snacks before you travel home.
- Review your trip with your buddy. What was brilliant, and what did you learn? What would you do differently next time to improve your comfort and safety?
- Leave the beach better that you found it. Pick up plastic and litter, and dispose of it responsibly.
And finally, why should you snorkel?
It’s complete escapism. Last week, I spent two hours at a rocky beach in Dunbar not thinking about Covid-19. I saw rainbow-coloured wrasse build underwater nests out of seaweed, learned a lobster’s favourite hiding place, and joined a shoal of sand eels as they darted between sunlit pools of water.
One of my favourite things to do at the end of every trip is to dive down, hold onto a sturdy kelp stalk, close my eyes and just listen. The sea is absolutely alive with sound.
But I won’t tell you why. Try snorkelling, and hear it for yourself.
Have you tried snorkelling or free swimming before? Let us know in the comments below or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.